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Marathon Training Program:
Final Race Countdown and Marathon Strategy

Over the past four months, let's assume that you've been a very conscientious runner, having followed all the training principles outlined within State of the Art Marathon Training. With race day finally here, all of your hard training has now been completed. Most runners assume there's nothing more to do except travel to the race site and complete the marathon. However, what you do and/or don't do during this time period can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of your race. This section will highlight many important areas that need your full attention the final hours prior to, during, and after the marathon. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that your marathon is scheduled for Sunday at 8:00 am.

Tapering

Please also refer to the tapering section of the site for important issues of concern that must be considered as the marathon draws near. While the taper period begins two weeks prior to the marathon, much of that content relates very closely to the information presented on this page and also deserves your meticulous attention.

Helpful Tips During the Hours Immediately Before the Marathon
  • Wake up early enough to take care of everything you must do (eat and drink, visit the bathroom, dress, etc.).
  • If you haven't already done so, plan to meet your family members or friends at a designated time and place after the race.
  • Check the weather forecast for updated information about general conditions, temperature range, and wind. Being aware of the expected weather conditions helps in deciding what you may choose to wear for the majority of the marathon. Above all, don't overdress.
  • Depart for the race site with plenty of time to spare, arriving early enough to check you bag (if applicable) and take care of any last minute details.
  • Stay off your feet as much as possible prior to the race.
  • Continue to drink fluids up to 15 minutes before the start of the race.
  • Eat your final snack no more than 30 minutes before the start of the race.
Issues to Consider During Your Marathon

The Start

Line up according to your expected pace (faster runners to the front). While runners are generally very honest people, this oftentimes does not hold true when they are asked to position themselves for the start of the race! Unfortunately, too many slower runners line up in front of the faster runners. In addition to this not being fair, in a large race, the slower runners can actually create a dangerous situation (as people tend to be pushed down or slip and fall). Please be courteous!

Don't get too caught up in the hoopla by being overly exuberant by yelling and cheering as the gun is about to go off. Save that energy later when you'll need it. Instead, focus on positive thinking. Visualize all of your friends who will be pulling for you and all the hard training that went into the preparation for this big race. Take a deep breathe and KNOW that you are going to not only finish the race but achieve your goal(s).

Pacing

Running the correct pace for your ability level is crucial in the marathon, especially for the first time marathoner. It's so easy to start the race by running at too fast pace for which you are prepared. Your pace during the first mile oftentimes feels effortless due to the adrenaline rush and excitement of the event. If you run early miles at too fast a pace for which you've trained, you'll pay dearly for the mistake in the later miles. A much better plan is to start out slower than what you hope to average and then run the middle miles at your chosen (hopefully realistic) pace. It's a better strategy to pick up the pace during the final miles when you know you can finish rather than starting aggressively. In the world of marathoning, there's no such theory as "putting the fast miles in the bank early in the race" and then holding on in the end. If you go that route, you will most assuredly visit the dreaded "wall" (the point in time when glycogen stores within the muscles have been depleted and as a result, the runner's pace slows considerably, oftentimes to a walk). During the marathon, constantly monitor how you are feeling, and adjust your pace accordingly based on your perceived energy level. Your past long training runs will enable you to do this.

Runner's Web has a wonderful tool, a marathon splits calculator, that enables you to key in a goal marathon time and view split times for shorter distances displayed in both miles and kilometers. Some texts have "race predictor charts" which will provide you with the opportunity to extrapolate from your shorter race times (e.g., 10K, half-marathon, etc.) a projected marathon times. Check out this great web site, MarathonGuide.com, for their "Race Time Predictor Chart". Use charts such as these as a guide in determining what pace you should theoretically be able to maintain for your marathon. The information derived from these charts are less-reliable if you haven't completed some training runs of 20 miles or longer. Also take into consideration the weather conditions and course difficulty when predicting your possible marathon times. Strong winds, high temperatures, hills, among other factors, can add several minutes to your finish time.

Aid Stations

Be sure to drink ample quantities of sports drinks during the marathon to maintain carbohydrate and electrolytes levels to the working muscles.Do not pass up any fluid stations on the marathon racecourse. While it's acceptable to drink just water in the early miles, runners MUST consume sports beverages no later than 60 minutes of running (and earlier if possible). Find out what works best for you in long practice runs. At a fluid station, water is usually offered at the first tables with sports beverages served near the end of the station. If you're not sure what's in the cup (water or sports drink), politely ask. Squeeze the top of the cup into a "v" shape to create a smooth delivery of fluid directly into your mouth if you choose to run and drink as you pass through. If necessary, walk through the aid stations to be sure that you are able to consume the entire contents of the cup. If you choose to stop and drink, please stay out of path of approaching runners.

Supplementing

Many runners take advantage of gel energy supplement products (e.g., Cliff Shots, Gu, Power Gel, etc.) as these will provide a fairly quick source of carbohydrates. Be sure to chase these down with water to avoid stomach cramps and to insure absorption. Some runners will stop and eat a power bar, orange slices, jelly beans, etc. to also provide needed energy. These products are seldom offered at "official" marathon aid stations. Ask a family member or friend to position themselves at points along the course if you wish to consume any special fluids or foods during the even. A final thought... Please dispose of food items properly by throwing them away in trash receptacles, handing them to volunteers working at fluid stations, or placing them in your fanny pack. Let's all work together to keep the race-course and environment clean!

Stay Loose and Relaxed

Be sure to shake out your arms and shoulders throughout the race to avoid upper body muscle tightness.

To Socialize or Not?

Oftentimes during the marathon, you will encounter other runners who will be running your pace and may wish to engage you in conversation. It's a personal decision as to if you wish to stick with them and chat along the way. The positive aspect of socializing is that many great friendships have been started this way, and that talking to others is a great way to take your mind off the physical discomfort you may face later in the marathon. On occasion, runners who are experiencing great difficulty in the later stages of the event make pacts with one another as a motivational strategy as a means of finishing the race.

The other view pertaining to socializing is that talking may rob you of valuable energy you may need later. The last miles of the marathon can be quite draining mentally. For that reason itself, you may choose to run the last miles without much conversation. Also, running with someone may slow you down. You'll undoubtedly finish the marathon, but sticking with someone slower may compromise your chances of achieving a personal goal.

Psychological Issues

If you've trained properly and barring any unforeseen problems, nothing should stop you from achieving your goal of finishing the marathon. Nothing, that is, except a lack of confidence and/or a negative attitude at the starting line or during the race. As mentioned previously, finishing a marathon is seldom easy (for most participants). Keep in mind the thought that if marathon training were easy, then there would be nothing special about running the 26.2-mile distance. However, a positive mental attitude will go a long way in helping you finish. Other helpful mental tips include:
  • Take time to enjoy the spectators, participants, and the scenery of the course.
  • Stop negative thoughts dead in their tracks and change them to positive affirmations.
  • Think about how proud family members and friends will be of you and your accomplishment.
  • If you encounter a difficult hill in the race, look at it in a positive light. See the hill as an opportunity to exercise different muscles, giving tired ones a breather.
These and other types of positive mental experiences will include concepts such as imagery, mental rehearsal/visualization, and self-talk. Please refer to the separate section on Psychological Issues for more information.

Injury

If you feel an increase in pain as you continue to run, seriously consider dropping out of the marathon. No race is worth the risk of hurting yourself by continuing to run and causing a minor injury to turn into a major setback.

Issues to Consider Immediately Following Your Marathon

While completing a marathon is indeed a great personal accomplishment, it is essential to take care of a few basic tasks prior to relaxing and celebrating immediately after the race. Recovery from the physical demands of the marathon begins right after you cross the finish line. If you choose not to take time to incorporate these simple procedures, you will no doubt be reminded in the days following the marathon of what you put your body through with the feelings of excessive soreness, fatigue, and pain. The good news is that you don't have to experience these discomforts, that is, if you follow the suggestions listed below!
  • Determine if you have a need to visit the medical tent. No problem should be considered too small. Allow the medical personnel on hand at the race check out any muscles and joint pain that you are experiencing. Immediately after the race, take care of blisters or other medical needs so that they can be treated properly.
  • Soon after crossing the line, grab something to drink (water, sports drinks, fruit and vegetable juices, etc.). Suppress the urge to consume alcoholic beverages until later in the evening after you've had a nutritious meal.
  • Within a few minutes of finishing the race, stop by the refreshment area and pick up something to eat.
  • Stretch thoroughly within 20 minutes of completing the event.
    Do not even consider the thought of lying down!  Stretch thoroughly within 20 minutes of completing the marathon.
  • Do not even consider the thought of lying down... keep moving!
  • Sign up for a post-race massage (if available).
  • Soak your legs in some cool water within an hour or two of finishing.
  • Later in the day (three or four hours after the race), spend a few minutes in a warm whirlpool.
  • After you return home or to the hotel, have a nutritious lunch. This should be a well-balanced meal that includes the majority of its total calories in carbohydrates. Don't overlook consuming at least 20 percent of the meal's calories from protein sources.
  • Do not take a nap or lay down for long periods of time later in the day (that is unless you wish to be very sore or nauseous!); Instead, stay on your feet by taking a walk or perhaps cycling for a few easy miles. Above all, keep moving to minimize leg muscle soreness.
  • Later that afternoon or evening, go out and celebrate. If you trained properly and followed all of the pre-race and marathon strategy suggestions, you should be able to do just about anything you wish (including dancing)! Above all, have a great time!
  • Refer to Life After the Marathon for comprehensive information regarding issues to consider in the weeks following to your marathon.



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